Leading with Trust

9 Habits of Trustworthy Leaders

habitshabit [hab-it], noun — an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary

Habits…we all have them, don’t we? Some are good for us and help us live healthier and happier lives. Others aren’t so good and they cause us pain, guilt, and turmoil. Hopefully the good outweigh the bad.

As the definition above illustrates, habits are something that can be learned, and that’s important when it comes to being a trustworthy leader. Most people assume trust “just happens,” but that’s false. Trust is built through the use of very specific behaviors that anyone can learn and master over time. Trustworthiness can, and should, become a habit.

First we make our habits, and then our habits make us.

My fellow trust activist, John Blakey, has recently published The Trusted Executive—Nine leadership habits that inspire results, relationships, and reputation. His book is a road-map that can help anyone develop the habit of trustworthiness. Built around the three pillars of trust—ability, integrity, and benevolence—John outlines nine habits of trustworthiness.

The Habits of Ability

  • Choosing to deliver—People trust you when you have a track record of success. That means you follow through on your commitments and deliver results. Be sure you only make commitments you can keep and be careful of using the “P” word—promise. If you promise to do something, make sure you do it. Breaking a promise is one of the quickest ways to erode people’s trust.
  • Choosing to coach—The number one priority of a sports coach is to help players maximize their abilities and achieve success. When leaders develop the habit of acting like a coach they put the needs of their people ahead of their own. Your job as a leader is plain and simple—help your people succeed.
  • Choosing to be consistent—Predictable and consistent behavior is essential for being a trustworthy leader. Your people trust you when they can rely on you to act, and react, in a consistent manner. Wild swings of behavior lead people to be on edge and behaving inconsistently will cause your people to hold back on giving you their all because they aren’t sure how you’ll react when they encounter difficulties.

The Habits of Integrity

  • Choosing the be honest—Honesty is the foundation of integrity. It means you tell the truth, admit mistakes, and make ethical decisions. If people can’t trust your word they find it hard to trust anything else about you.
  • Choosing to be open—Trustworthy leaders share information in an open and transparent fashion. They keep their team members informed so they can make responsible decisions because without information people are shooting in the dark.
  • Choosing to be humble—Trustworthy leaders are humble leaders. Humbleness doesn’t mean meekness; humbleness is strength under control. Leading with humility means you consider the needs of your people more important than your own.

The Habits of Benevolence

  • Choosing to evangelize—Blakey advocates that leaders need to be evangelists who spread the good news of all the great things happening in their organizations. Bad news travels like wildfire and trustworthy leaders keep their people focused on the vision and goals of the organization.
  • Choosing to be brave—Leadership is not for the faint of heart. Leaders have to make tough decisions, often in uncertain conditions with sparse information. Trustworthy leaders demonstrate bravery by making decisions in alignment with their values and those of the organization.
  • Choosing to be kind—Kindness should not be underestimated when it comes to building trust. Extending common courtesies, praising and recognizing team members, and building personal rapport are all ways leaders demonstrate kindness.

Leaders don’t become trustworthy by accident. They learn the behaviors of trust and practice them over a period of time to the point where they become habits. Developing these nine habits will help you become the kind of leader your people not only desire but deserve.

The Reason Why You Don’t Trust Your Team May Surprise You

baby_in_mirrorMaybe you’ve heard these types of phrases from leaders in the past, or to bring it closer to home, perhaps you’ve even uttered them yourself:

  • “I just can’t trust my team to complete the job to the quality I expect.”
  • “Deadlines always seem to be a moving target with my team.”
  • “I seem to be on a different wavelength with my team. I say one thing but they hear another.”
  • “I don’t always see or feel a sense of teamwork. We seem to be a collection of individuals rather than a unified team.”

Do any of those sound familiar? All of them can point to a lack of trust between the team leader and his/her team. But have you ever paused to consider why you don’t trust your team? It may not have anything to do with them. It might be you.

Trust doesn’t “just happen” in relationships. It takes intentional effort, and in a team setting, it’s up to the leader to cultivate the right environment for trust to flourish. If you find yourself not trusting your team, explore these three areas:

Trust Signals – Trust is developed through the use of specific behaviors, and based on a complex set of variables (our personality, early childhood upbringing, past experience, and our values, just to name a few), each of us is “tuned in” to certain behavioral signals that communicate trust. The challenge in a team environment is every person can be tuned in to different trust signals, so what communicates trust to you may be different than what communicates trust to someone else. It’s important to establish a common language of trust so that everyone is picking up the same signals. A helpful tool to get everyone on the same page of trust is the ABCD Trust Model. It takes the four elements of trust (competence, integrity, care, and dependability) and puts them in an easy to understand model that provides a common set of trust signals for everyone to use.

Mis-aligned Expectations – Many times the reason leaders don’t trust their teams is they haven’t done a good job of clarifying expectations. Leaders often assume the team knows the importance of the goal, the quality standards expected, or the deadline for completing the work. When the team doesn’t perform as expected, the leader jumps to the conclusion that the team can’t be trusted. Step back and reassess the situation. Did you verbalize your expectations and make them absolutely clear? Did you equip or train your team to meet those expectations? Did you provide the day-to-day coaching needed or did you just leave the team on its own? When expectations aren’t met, we have a habit of judging others by their actions but judging ourselves by our intent. Judge your team by their intent and explore whether or not your expectations were communicated clearly.

Lack of Vulnerability – Too many leaders are closed books when it comes to relating to their teams. They are distant and detached, both physically and emotionally. That leads to team members always playing a guessing game as to what the leader wants. People can’t do their best work when they don’t know what to expect from the leader. The cure is for leaders to be clear on their Leadership Point of View (LPOV). Your LPOV is your leadership philosophy. It’s a statement of why you lead, what’s important to you as a leader, what your team members can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Developing and communicating your LPOV lets team members “behind the curtain.” It shows vulnerability on your part to be real and authentic with team members and it creates tremendously high levels of trust.

Trust has been called the miracle triple-acting agent for organizations. It provides the lubrication that makes people, processes, and systems work more smoothly. It also acts as the bonding agent that brings people together, allowing them to collaborate effectively and achieve more together than they could as individuals. And trust also functions as the catalyst to spur the innovation and creativity that’s necessary to propel organizations to higher levels of success. So don’t underestimate the power of trust, and when you feel it’s lacking with your team, take a look in the mirror first. The problem may be staring back at you.

5 Freedom-Fostering Ways to Develop High Performing Teams

FreedomLast week I shared four ways to tell if you inspire freedom or fear in your team members. You can tell you’ve created a culture of freedom in your team if you see your people taking appropriate risks, speaking truth to power, readily admitting their mistakes, and sharing their heart with you.

What if your team doesn’t display those signs? Does that mean you’ve done something wrong? Not necessarily. In fact, you probably haven’t done anything wrong. The more likely scenario is you just haven’t devoted intentional effort to building the culture of your team. Now that you have an idea that things could be better, here’s a way to get started fostering freedom within your team to enable them to perform at their best.

1. Be trustworthy – The bedrock of any successful leader or team is trust. As Warren Bennis said, it’s the lubrication that makes organizations work. It’s the oil that keeps your team’s engine humming at its best, and without it, your team’s production will grind to a halt. A primary component of your leadership role is to model trustworthy behavior. It sets the tone for how you expect team members to treat each other. Building trust is a never-ending quest. It’s a journey, not a destination. For a primer on being a trustworthy leader, see The ABCDs of Leading with Trust.

2. Be open – To infuse your team atmosphere with a sense of freedom, it’s imperative that you lead with a philosophy of openness. You demonstrate openness by sharing information freely because you know people need information if they are going to act responsibly in their roles. Openness also means being forthright and genuine when you share information or interact with team members. You don’t spin the truth to manipulate the way team members interpret information, but you share the truth candidly and appropriately. Openness means your team members know there are no hidden agendas with you. What they see is what they get (you’re authentic).

3. Establish clear expectations – Fostering freedom within your team doesn’t mean “anything goes.” Freedom doesn’t mean a lack of responsibility or accountability. In fact, it means just the opposite. It means everyone is clear on the expectations for their role. It means they clearly understand what’s in their lane and what’s not. Freedom results because within the boundaries that have been established, team members have the full reign to operate according to their best judgment. If boundaries and expectations aren’t clear, it leads to people being hesitant to act, duplication of efforts, or even worse, someone dropping the ball because they assume the other person is supposed to be responsible. Clear expectations through the use of job descriptions, establishing key responsibility areas for positions, and setting SMART goals are all ways to clarify expectations.

4. Be receptive to others – You cultivate freedom in your team by actively seeking the input of others, truly listening to their ideas, and incorporating their feedback into your decisions and action plans for the team. This isn’t the same as being open, as I mentioned above. Think of openness as what you communicate out to the team, and think of receptivity as what you take in from the team. Team members want to be invested and display a sense of ownership if only leaders will give them the opportunity. Availability is a key aspect to being receptive, because you can’t be receptive if you’re in meetings eight hours a day and never available to connect with your team members. When they do bring ideas or input to you, listen non-judgmentally. Don’t instinctively look for all the holes in their ideas, but explore ways to make their ideas (or parts of them) work.

5. Don’t micromanage – You can excel at being the most trustworthy and open leader, set clear expectations and be receptive to the input of others, but if you micromanage your team to death, freedom will never gain a foothold. Micromanagement creates discouragement and resignation on the part of team members. It beats down the spirits of your people to the point where they “quit and stay” on the job. They’re physically present but not engaged in their work. They eventually develop the attitude of just doing the minimum amount of work acceptable and nothing more. If that’s the kind of team you want, then be my guest. Micromanage away! If it’s not the type of team you want, then avoid the temptation to over control. Your team will thank you for it.

Five ways to foster freedom in your team: be trustworthy, open, establish clear expectations, be receptive to others, and don’t micromanage. By no means an exhaustive list but a good start nonetheless. Practice these big five and you’ll be on your way to developing a high performing team.

Heart to Heart Talks – Three Steps to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

At the root of many of our interpersonal or team conflicts is a failure to communicate. Sometimes the problem is that information isn’t shared broadly enough and people become resentful because they weren’t included. Other times we say things that come out wrong and people are offended, even though we may have had good intentions behind our message. Regardless of how the situation was created, if we don’t take the time to thoughtfully address it, the miscommunication evolves into the “elephant in the room” that everyone knows is present but isn’t willing to address.

Recently I worked with a client where the elephant in the room had been present for nearly a year. The issue within this team had led to a fracture in what were previously very close relationships, had tarnished the team’s reputation within the organization, and was causing strife and turmoil that was affecting the team’s performance. Everyone on the team knew the elephant was in the room, but no one wanted to talk about it.

To break the communication logjam and get the team back on the path to restoring an environment of openness, trust, and respect, I used a facilitated discussion process called Heart to Heart Talks, adapted from Layne and Paul Cutright’s book Straight From the Heart. If the participants are committed to the health and success of the relationship, and approach this process with a desire to be authentic and vulnerable, it can be a powerful way to discuss difficult issues and allow everyone to be heard.

The process involves three rounds of discussions and the speaker and listener have very specific roles. The speaker has to use a series of lead-in statements that structure the context of how they express their thoughts and emotions. In order to let the speaker know he/she has been heard, understood, and allow additional information to be shared, the listener can only respond with the following statements:

  • Thank you.
  • I understand.
  • Is there more you would like to say about that?
  • I don’t understand. Could you say that in a different way?

The first round involves a series of “Discovery” statements designed to create openness among the participants and to learn more about each others’ perspectives. The speaker can use the following sentence starters:

  • Something I want you to know about me…
  • Something that’s important to me is…
  • Something that’s challenging for me right now is…

The second round comprises “Clearing” statements that allow for the release of fears, anxiety, stress, and to increase trust. The speaker can use the following sentence stems:

  • Something I’ve been concerned about is…
  • Something I need to say is…
  • A feeling I’ve been having is…
  • Something I’m afraid to tell you is…

The third round involves “Nurturing” statements that create mental and emotional well-being in the relationship. These statements allow the participants to put closure to the difficult issues that were shared and to express appreciation for each other that sets the stage for moving forward in a positive fashion. The speaker can use the following phrases:

  • Something I appreciate about you is…
  • Something I value about you is…
  • Something I respect about you is…

The facilitator can structure the process in a number of ways, but the important thing is to establish a rhythm for each round where the speaker gets a defined amount of time to share (using the lead-in statements) and the listener responds after each statement. It’s important for the listener to respond each time because it sets the proper rhythm for the discussion and validates the thoughts being shared by the speaker. The speaker should be encouraged to share whatever comes to mind without censoring his/her thoughts or saying what he/she thinks the other person wants to hear. If the speaker can’t think of anything to share, he/she can say “blank” and then repeat one of the sentence starters. Encourage the participants to keep the process moving and the thoughts will flow more quickly. At the conclusion of the three rounds, it’s important to close the discussion with a recap of the desired outcomes and any action items the participants want to pursue.

As “Captain”, the prison warden in the movie Cool Hand Luke, famously said to Paul Newman’s character, “What we have here is (a) failure to communicate.” That’s often the case when it comes to interpersonal or team conflicts, and using the Heart to Heart process can help people confront the elephant in the room that everyone knows is there but is afraid to discuss.

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